Mark Sullivan

Private Games

Private, the world’s most renowned investigation firm, has been commissioned to provide security for the 2012 Olympic Games in London. Its agents are the smartest, fastest, and most technologically advanced in the world, and 400 of them have been transferred to London to protect over 10,000 competitors who represent more than 200 countries.

The opening ceremony is hours away when Private investigator and single father of twins, Peter Knight, is called to the scene of a ruthless murder. A high-ranking member of the games’ organizing committee has been killed. It’s clear to Peter that this wasn’t a crime of passion, but one of precise calculation and execution.

Newspaper reporter Karen Pope receives a letter from a person who calls himself Cronus claiming responsibility for the murders. He promises to restore the Olympics to their ancient glory and to destroy all those who have corrupted the games with lies, corruption, and greed. Immediately, Karen hires Private to examine the letter, and she and Peter uncover a criminal genius who won’t stop until he’s completely destroyed the modern games. “America’s #1 storyteller” (Forbes) delivers an exhilarating, action-packed thriller that brings the splendor and emotion of the Olympics to a wildly powerful climax.

Prologue
One

WEDNESDAY, JULY 25, 2012, 11:25 P.M.

THERE ARE SUPERMEN and superwomen who walk this earth.

I'm quite serious about that, and you can take me literally. Jesus Christ, for example, was a spiritual superman, as were Martin Luther and Gandhi. Julius Caesar was superhuman as well. So were Genghis Khan, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Adolf Hitler.

Think about scientists like Aristotle, Galileo, Albert Einstein, and J. Robert Oppenheimer. Consider artists like da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Vincent van Gogh, my favorite, who was so superior it drove him insane. Above all, don't forget athletically superior beings like Jim Thorpe, Babe Didrikson Zaharias, and Jesse Owens; Larisa Latynina and Muhammad Ali; Mark Spitz and Jackie Joyner-Kersee.
Humbly, I include myself on this superhuman spectrum as well—and deservedly so, as you shall soon see.

In short, people like me are born for great things. We seek adversity. We seek to conquer. We seek to break through all limits—spiritually, politically, artistically, scientifically, and physically. We seek to right wrongs in the face of monumental odds. And we're willing to suffer for greatness, willing to engage in dogged effort and endless preparation with the fervor of a martyr—which, to my mind, is an exceptional trait in any human being at any age.

At the moment I have to admit that I'm certainly feeling exceptional, standing here in the garden of Sir Denton Marshall, a sniveling, corrupt old bastard if there ever was one.

Look at him on his knees, with his back to me and my knife at his throat.

Why, he trembles and shakes as if a stone had just clipped his head. Can you smell it? Fear? It surrounds him with an odor as rank as the air after a bomb explodes.

"Why?" he gasps.

"You've angered me, monster," I snarl at him, feeling a deeper-than-primal rage split my mind and seethe through every cell. "You've helped ruin the games, made them a mockery and an abomination."

"What?" he cries, acting bewildered. "What are you talking about?"

I deliver the evidence against him in three damning sentences that turn the skin of his neck livid and his carotid artery a sickening, pulsing purple.

"No!" he sputters. "That's...that's not true. You can't do this. Have you gone utterly mad?"

"Mad? Me?" I say. "Hardly. I'm the sanest person I know."

"Please," he says, tears rolling down his face. "Have mercy. I'm to be married on Christmas Eve."

My laugh is as caustic as battery acid. "In another life, Denton, I ate my own children. You'll get no mercy from me or my sisters."

As his confusion and horror become complete, I look up into the night sky, feeling storms rising in my head, and understanding once again that I am superior, superhuman, imbued with forces that go back thousands of years.

"For all true Olympians," I vow, "this act of sacrifice marks the beginning of the end of the modern games."

Then I wrench the old man's head back so his back arches.

And before he can scream, I furiously rip the blade across his throat with such force that his head comes free of his neck all the way to his spine.

 

Book One | THE FURIES

Chapter 1

THURSDAY, JULY 26, 2012, 9:24 A.M.

IT WAS MAD-DOG hot for London. Peter Knight's shirt and jacket were drenched with sweat as he sprinted north on Chesham Street past the Diplomat Hotel and skidded around the corner toward Lyall Mews in the heart of Belgravia, home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world.

Don't let it be true, Knight screamed internally as he entered the mews. Dear God, don't let it be true.

Then he saw a pack of newspaper reporters gathering at the yellow tape of a London Metropolitan Police barricade that blocked the road in front of a cream-colored Georgian-style townhome. Knight lurched to a stop, feeling like he was going to retch up the eggs and bacon he'd had for breakfast.

What would he ever tell Amanda?

Before Knight could compose his thoughts or still his stomach, his cell phone rang. He snatched it from his pocket without looking at caller ID.

"Knight," he managed to choke out. "That you, Jack?"

"No, Peter, it's Nancy," the voice replied in an Irish brogue. "Isabel has come down sick."

"What?" he groaned. "No...I just left the house an hour ago."

"She's running a temperature," the full-time nanny insisted. "I just took it."

"How high?"

"One hundred. She's complaining about her stomach, too."

"Lukey?"

"He seems fine," she said. "But—"

"Give them both a cool bath, and call me back if Isabel's temp hits a hundred and one," Knight said. He snapped the phone shut, swallowed the bile burning at the back of his throat.

A wiry man about six feet tall, with an appealing face and light brown hair, Knight had once been a special investigator assigned to the Old Bailey, home of England's Central Criminal Court. Two years ago, however, he joined the London office of Private International at twice the pay and prestige. Private has been called the Pinkerton Agency of the twenty-first century, with offices in every major city in the world staffed by top-notch forensic scientists, security specialists, and investigators such as Knight.

Compartmentalize, he told himself. Be professional. But this felt like the straw that would break the camel's back. Knight had already endured too much grief and loss, both personally and professionally. Just the week before, his boss, Dan Carter, and three of his colleagues had perished in a plane crash over the North Sea that was still under investigation. Could he live with another death?

Pushing that question and his daughter's illness to one side, Knight forced himself to hurry on through the sweltering heat toward the police barrier, giving the Fleet Street crowd a wide berth, and in so doing spotted Billy Casper, a Scotland Yard inspector he'd known for fifteen years.

He went straight to Casper, a blockish man with a pockmarked face who scowled the second he saw Knight. "Private's got no business in this, Peter."

"If that's Sir Denton Marshall dead in there, then Private does have business in this, and I do, too," Knight shot back forcefully. "Personal business, Billy. Is it Sir Denton?"

Casper said nothing.

"Is it?" Knight demanded.

Finally the inspector nodded, but he wasn't happy about it, and asked suspiciously, "How are you and Private involved?"

Knight stood there a moment, feeling lambasted by the news and wondering again how the hell he was going to tell Amanda. Then he shook off the despair and said, "The London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games is Private London's client. Which makes Sir Denton Private's client."

"And you?" Casper demanded. "What's your personal stake in this? You a friend of his or something?"

"Much more than a friend. He was engaged to my mother."

Casper's hard expression softened a bit and he chewed at his lip before saying, "I'll see if I can get you in. Elaine will want to talk to you."

Knight felt suddenly as if invisible forces were conspiring against him.

"Elaine caught this case?" he said, wanting to punch something. "You can't be serious."

"Dead serious, Peter," Casper said. "Lucky, lucky you."

 

Book One | THE FURIES

Chapter 2

CHIEF INSPECTOR ELAINE Pottersfield was one of the finest detectives working for the Metropolitan Police, a twenty-year veteran of the force with a prickly, know-it-all style that got results. Pottersfield had solved more murders in the past two years than any other inspector at Scotland Yard. She was also the only person Knight knew who openly despised his presence.

An attractive woman in her forties, the inspector always put Knight in mind of a borzoi, with her large round eyes, aquiline face, and silver hair that cascaded about her shoulders. When he entered Sir Denton Marshall's kitchen, Pottersfield eyed him down her sharp nose, looking ready to bite at him if she got the chance.

"Peter," she said coldly.

"Elaine," Knight said.

"Not exactly my idea to let you into the crime scene."

"No, I imagine not," replied Knight, fighting to control his emotions, which were heating up by the second. Pottersfield always seemed to have that effect on him. "But here we are. What can you tell me?"

The Scotland Yard inspector did not reply for several moments. Then she finally said, "The maid found him an hour ago out in the garden, or what's left of him, anyway."

Flashing on memories of Sir Denton, the learned and funny man he'd come to know and admire over the past two years, Knight's legs felt wobbly, and he had to put his vinyl-gloved hand out on the counter to steady himself. "What's left of him?"

Pottersfield grimly gestured at the open French door.

Knight absolutely did not want to go out into the garden. He wanted to remember Sir Denton the last time he'd seen him, two weeks before, with his shock of startling white hair, scrubbed pink skin, and easy, infectious laugh.

"I understand if you'd rather not," Pottersfield said. "Inspector Casper said your mother was engaged to Sir Denton. When did that happen?"

"New Year's past," Knight said. He swallowed and moved toward the door, adding bitterly, "They were to be married on Christmas Eve. Another tragedy. Just what I need in my life, isn't it?"

Pottersfield's expression twisted in pain and anger, and she looked at the kitchen floor as Knight went by her and out into the garden.

Outside, the temperature was growing hotter. The air in the garden was still and stank of death and gore. On the flagstone terrace, five quarts of blood—the entire reservoir of Sir Denton's life—had run out and congealed around his decapitated corpse.

"The medical examiner thinks the job was done with a long curved blade that has a serrated edge," Pottersfield said.

Knight again fought off the urge to vomit. He tried to take the entire scene in, to burn it into his mind as if it were a series of photographs and not reality. Keeping everything at arm's length was the only way he knew to get through something like this.

Pottersfield said, "And if you look closely, you'll see some of the blood's been sprayed back toward the body with water from the garden hose. I'd expect the killer did it to wash away footprints and such."

Knight nodded, and then, by sheer force of will, moved his attention beyond the body, deeper into the garden, bypassing forensics techs gathering evidence from the flower beds and turning to a crime-scene photographer snapping away near the back wall.

Knight skirted the corpse by several feet and from that new perspective saw what the photographer was focusing on. It was from ancient Greece, and was one of Sir Denton's prized possessions: a headless limestone statue of an Athenian senator cradling a scroll and holding the hilt of a busted sword.

Sir Denton's head had been placed in the empty space between the statue's shoulders. His face was puffy, lax. His mouth was twisted to the left, as if he were spitting. And his eyes were open, dull, and, to Knight, shockingly forlorn.

For an instant, the Private operative wanted to break down. But then he felt himself swell with outrage. What kind of barbarian would do such a thing? And why? What possible reason could there be to behead Denton Marshall? The man was more than good. He was...

"You're not seeing it all, Peter," Pottersfield said behind him. "Go look at the grass in front of the statue."

Knight closed his hands to fists and walked off the terrace onto the grass, which scratched against the paper booties he wore over his shoes, making a sound that was as annoying to him as fingernails on a chalkboard. Then he saw it and stopped cold.

Five interlocking rings, the symbol of the Olympic Games, had been spray-painted on the grass.

Through the symbol, an X had been smeared in blood.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2012 by James Patterson
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